Disrupting Age in France

Trends / Realness
Paulo Amorim
Sandra Michalska
Dec 1, 2022
They say age is just a number. In the visual storytelling world, however, it’s not only a number, but a construct – a vision of what an old or young person should do, buy, or be. In a time when brands and industries are looking for ways to align with growing calls for inclusion, the age construct is in constant evolution. Senior representation is a good example: between seniorista, papy‑hipster and happy boomer, new age categories aim to replace tropes that we have seen traditionally, such as an older woman in poor health, or on the contrary, a super senior running ultra‑marathons. Our research on the visual evolution of the representation of aging shows that this was still the case five years ago. Older generations were single‑storied1, reduced to a few visual scenarios perpetuated by stereotypes while reinforcing them. Today, visuals used by French companies show us that brands have started to adapt their visual storytelling to the multi‑dimensionality of people’s lives.
What has changed and what could change
Our analysis of visual storytelling from French brands tells us that visuals showing active people aged 60+ have grown. Brands started to focus on what older people can do, instead of what they can’t do, and rightfully so. In fact, only 8% of 60+ in France are dependent on or in need of assistance2. Despite this positive shift, the road to a fair view of their reality still needs work. If in thirty years, one in three people in France will be over 603, they will continue to shake our industry in many ways. Still, the advertising industry does not fully acknowledge it, or, they don’t show it yet in their visual communication. Let’s look at some facts:
  • Older people in France have greater purchasing power than previous generations, while also being more debt‑free, allowing them to spend a significant portion of their income on their personal needs.4
  • They are the first customers of airlines, four‑star hotels, and cruise lines5 – yet our research shows that only 5% of travel content used by French brands represents the 60+ population.
  • The 60+ gamer community has doubled in the last two years, especially 60+ women6. If visual storytelling depicts older women as grandmothers transmitting knowledge to children, they are more likely to be pictured teaching them how to bake cakes but never playing games together.

If the overall visual content use in France lacks seniors, the roles they are given are often gendered, much more than when showing people in their 20s or 30s. When grandmothers are cooking, grandfathers are playing outside or going hiking.
"She looks well for her age. He ages like wine."
This kind of gendered division typically picks up on existing unconscious bias. Some of them are social constructs, and some of them are made to sell. With Paris being the fashion capital of the world, society – and especially women – face aggressive beauty standards, incarnated by the myth of La Parisienne. The anti‑aging movement is still standing and skewing visual expression around beauty and aging through studio portraits of senior women, with dense grey hair, successfully rejuvenated. If visual communication relies on compromises and visible signs that we accept (or don't accept) for the purpose of messaging, the visual clues that signify older people, and more specifically, older women, are most often linked to the appearance of  wrinkles and grey hair.

This has impact, especially when we know how exposed to advertising the 60+ population is. Our VisualGPS consumer survey shows that the discrimination perceived by this population has grown in the last 12 months, and age is the second most encountered bias by 60+ consumers. Despite the positive shift in portraying 60+ French people over the years, only 1 in 10 French think that they are accurately represented in visual storytelling. Brands have the power to change this narrative or, maybe one day, make age irrelevant. Let’s not forget that by under‑representing the older generations today, we are rejecting authentic representation of our future selves.
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